Restored 18 April 2017, originally published 15 February 2016
Sometimes it’s a good thing when your expectations are unmet.
I went to the Paproota.org Dub Netlabel site looking to groove to some traditional reggae beats; instead, I encountered the cool electronic sounds of Zebra. After I got past my initial “this isn’t at all what I was expecting” reaction, I quite enjoyed what I was hearing.
Zebra is a duo consisting of Natalia Norko and Zdzisław Orłowski, both of whom are based in Poland (as is Paproota). “North” presents a collection of tunes mixing electronics, dreamy female vocals, and varied musical style influences (including reggae, so ultimately I got some of what I came for!) to produce a stellar collection of songs.
And there is a really nice flow to the musical journey that is “North.” Opener “Afraid” comes on with strong electronic sounds and watery synth touches over a solid reggae beat. “Dwarfs“ follows with hints of a reggae lilt, but mixes in spacey, psychedelic sounds that move this track closer to a trip hop groove. The title track follows next and is built over a more abstract industrial beat that, about half way through, displays dub-influenced production.
“Papafakindo” starts as less as a song and more of an odd dream interlude, but then it slides into dubby architecture. “Subway” has layers of industrial rhythms that sound at least partially African-influenced, while cleverly mixing in more reggae and spacey electronic elements.
Next, “Butterflies” flows by with more industrial reggae, trip hop, electro, dance, and then back to a slower rhythm as it concludes. That may come across as disjointed, but in fact it rolls along comfortably. “Double” features a bit of what may be a sliced-and-diced opera voice sample mixed with a more pronounced underlying reggae beat. It’s entrancing, like the sirens calling across a tropical sea.
While it easily still fits this album, closer “Tobe” is a little bit of a departure, featuring a strong new wave dance influence that would fit right at home on an early 1980s electronic dance music compilation.
Overall, this is a fantastic collection of music. Do not miss this unexpected trip North with Zebra.